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The Great Weight Debate: Why Being Fit and Healthy Is More Important Than Your Jeans Size

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America's Negative Perception of Fat

We asked national experts how to solve the split between how we think (make me skinny too!) and what we say (don't show us unhealthy models!) -- here's what they want you to know. Their main point: Never forget that feeling well and fit is the key to happiness. It's about movement, being able to do what you want, and maintaining good health. But we're not all there yet, say our experts: "Americans are in denial. We need to begin a journey of mental and physical transformation. We need to recognize that being fit or being a healthy weight is about wellness -- not about a number on the scale. Wellness is a gift you give yourself. Ask yourself, if not now, when are you going to stop searching outside for an answer to how you should look inside?" says Pamela Peeke, MD, a FITNESS advisory board member and author of Body for Life for Women and the new book Fit to Live.

Another problem experts identified: When it comes to our bodies, we're always reaching for that unrealistic brass ring. We can never achieve it, so we think, Why bother, right? "In the U.S. there's a tiny segment of the population -- the super-slim -- that has incredible ability to influence the rest of us. It shouldn't," Martin Binks, PhD, director of behavioral health at Duke University Diet & Fitness Center, told FITNESS. "When it comes to body image, the key is to focus on how you feel, not on the number on the scale. There's a broad range of numbers and weights that are healthy. Some skinny, some heavier. Not just one. Exercising and eating right -- if you do those things, then you're at your healthy weight," says Rene Zweig, PhD, director of eating disorders and weight management at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City.

Experts that FITNESS spoke with said that we need to look inward and tackle the problem, mind and spirit. Start by giving yourself a simple definition of wellness and remind yourself of it daily. Wellness means being fit to live, not just to survive but to thrive: eating on a regular schedule, exercising daily (even for just 20 minutes), and not obsessing over the hot diet book or shockingly skinny celeb of the moment.

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